Submitted Testimony Of Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. Before A Joint Hearing Of The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee And The Permanent Subcommittee On Investigations

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2 February 1989


Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, it is a particular pleasure for me to appear before a joint hearing of the committee and its Permanent Subcommittee. These distinguished panels of the Senate were the locus of my first employment with the United States Government nearly 13 years ago. I have always had fond memories of my time with the PSI’s then-Chairman, Sen. Henry M. Jackson, and I can honestly say that there is no more appropriate venue for my testimony on chemical weapons than this one.

This is so for several reasons: First, it was Sen. Jackson who taught me much of the practical limitations of arms control, especially in the area of verification and enforcement of compliance — two subjects to which I will return momentarily.

Second, Sen. Jackson shaped my early thinking about the nature of — and the vital need for — deterrence in the world in which we live. Scoop understood that the world was not always as we would like it to be. I learned from him that we should seek to improve it where we could but that the United States must be able, where necessary, to deter military aggression and other forms of violence. This required the maintenance of our own, effective military forces and, if possible, close collaboration with key allies.

Third, it was during my service with Sen. Jackson that I became concerned about the problem of chemical weapons (CW). At that time, the United States had, for most of a decade, observed a unilateral moratorium on the production of chemical munitions. Evidence was mounting that the existing U.S. stockpile of chemical weapons was increasingly obsolete and — to an alarming degree — comprised of leaking weapons likely to prove more dangerous to American personnel than to our adversaries.

Sen. Jackson was concerned in the late 1970’s about the very considerable offensive and defensive CW capabilities of the Soviet Union. He understood that the unilateral U.S. disarmament that would, in effect, result from our continued failure to modernize Americas chemical arsenal could invite lethal chemical attacks against us and our allies.

Restoring America’s Chemical Deterrent:

Gradually, a bipartisan coalition formed in the Senate — thanks not only to Scoop’s leadership, but also to the work of the distinguished co-chairmen of this hearing, Senators Glenn and Nunn, and then-Senator John Tower. By the early 1980’s, a majority in the Senate believed that production of a safer form of chemical weapon — known as binaries — was essential if the United States were to retain a credible CW deterrent. Eventually, and belatedly, the House of Representatives followed suit.

The legislative struggle to overcome the inertia of America’s unilateral moratorium on chemical weapons production is one of the great parliamentary sagas of our time. I am proud to have played a small part in it as a member of the Senate staff.

Interestingly, it took not only years of effort and great courage on the part of many members of Congress; it also required the then-Vice President, George Bush, to cast the decisive tie-breaking vote for chemical modernization on no fewer than three different occasions. This pivotal role is often cited as the catalyst for President Bush’s intense personal determination to negotiate a ban on all chemical weapons.

Late in 1987, the United States finally resumed the production of chemical munitions, clearing the way to replace the existing inventory on a less than one-for-one basis. As a consequence, we have begun to restore to the U.S. arsenal the single, proven deterrent to chemical aggression — a reliable and effective chemical retaliatory capability.

The prescience of President Reagan in requesting this capability, and that of the Congress in ultimately approving it, is now clearer than ever. Not only does the Soviet Union retain its formidable capacity for conducting chemical warfare; today a growing number of Third World nations are obtaining the means to produce and use lethal chemical agents — the subject of these hearings.

The Lessons of the Libyan Plant:

The much publicized Libyan chemical weapons plant at Rabta is but the most recent — if among the most frightening — of the emerging CW programs in developing countries. While Qaddafi’s potential to employ toxic chemical weapons in pursuit of his own aggressive aims (or on behalf of the international terrorists he supports) is grounds for ample concern, at least as troubling should be what the Rabta facility suggests about CW proliferation more broadly.

  • First, this plant illustrates the point that there is simply no certain way to distinguish between legitimate facilities producing a range of chemical products for civilian use (e.g., fertilizers, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, etc.) and those producing weapons. The catastrophe at Bhopal, India reveals just how lethal can be the products of some such facilities — even when used for civilian purposes.

  • Consequently, the industrialized world’s companies, banks and, yes, even governments are — knowingly or not — fostering the spread throughout the developing world of indigenous infrastructures with the inherent capability to produce chemical weapons. West Germany’s assistance to the building and fitting out of Libya’s Rabta complex is an infamous, but hardly unique, example of the phenomenon. The sources of chemical technology appear to be either indifferent to the potential for misuse — as the German exporters seemed to be — or they are willing to overlook it in the interest of making a sale.

  • Even if one were able to determine on a given day — or, for that matter, over a period of time — that a plant was engaged in the manufacture of commercial chemical products, there is no known means of ensuring that its equipment will not be put to CW-related uses shortly thereafter. It was for precisely this reason that the United States properly declined when Qaddafi proposed to allay our concerns about the Rabta facility by offering an on-site inspection of it.

  • The Rabta plant is, if anything, more obviously associated with military activities than one would expect to observe at facilities that were either engaged in covert manufacture of chemical weapons or being held in reserve against the day when such manufacture was deemed necessary. Its reported 40-foot earthen wall, rings of air defenses and other security measures are fairly compelling, albeit circumstantial, evidence of the purposes to which it will be put.

  • It has, nevertheless, proven remarkably difficult to obtain allied — to say nothing of neutrals’ — endorsements of the U.S. assessment of the Rabta complex. Perhaps the governments in question are unpersuaded because such a finding would be inconvenient for their relations with the Libyans — possibly exposing them or their citizens to increased threat of Libyan-sponsored terrorism. or it may be that their acknowledgement of the facts might oblige them to take some responsibility for resolving the problem (e.g., sanctions or endorsement of military action).

    Whatever the reason, the fact is that — even in the absence of a treaty banning production of chemical weapons — it is excruciatingly difficult to get international agreement that a given activity is related to chemical weapons manufacture. We must expect that, should a treaty outlawing chemical weapons ever be achieved, persuading others that a given country (the Soviet Union, for example) is violating the agreement will become still more difficult.


  • It is far from clear what the Libyans could now do — should they wish to do so — to persuade the United States that they have completely eliminated their incipient CW capability. Just as the Libyans were reported several weeks ago to be spiriting lethal precursors away from the Rabta facility, so too they could secretly relocate (or try to procure anew) the equipment needed to combine them with other agents to produce toxic agents for weapons. The termination of chemical warfare-related activities is likely to be as difficult to verify as their conduct.


These considerations serve to make two points: First, chemical weapons proliferation is a fact of international life. Such weapons can be manufactured cheaply; there is neither a need for expensive, dedicated facilities (as with nuclear weapons plants) nor for great technical sophistication. Countries around the world are availing themselves of the ability — actual or potential — to produce lethal chemical agents.

The reasons for their doing so are diverse: Some regard it as the easiest route to obtaining weapons of mass destruction — the poor man’s atom bomb. Of these, some fancy CW’s offensive potential, as vividly demonstrated in the effective use made of toxic chemical weapons by Iraq in its war with Iran. Many of the others, see possession of CW as a feasible means of checkmating an adversary’s nuclear arsenal.

Then there is the somewhat special case of a nation like Libya. Its purpose in acquiring a chemical weapons manufacturing capability appears motivated, at least in part, by the desire to add CW to the gruesome tools of the trade of the worldwide terrorist groups it sponsors.

A second point is that the aforementioned factors make any effort to respond to CW proliferation by negotiating a ban on the production and stockpiling of chemical weapons dangerously futile. It is simply not possible today to prevent countries with modern commercial chemical industries from also having thereby the ability to produce chemical weapons. There is no verification system known today or in prospect that will be able unfailingly to detect lethal chemical agent production and storage.

What is more, as the technology for manufacturing chemical products advances, the few signatures that today do provide important indications of CW activity are likely to disappear. Devices are already available on the commercial market that can manufacture lethal chemical agents (and, for that matter, toxin and biological weapons) without specialized or dedicated facilities. In fact, such agents can, with this technology, be produced virtually anywhere. There is no practicable verification scheme for dealing with such technical developments.

The United States Government’s 1987 Reassessment:

Considerations such as these in 1987 prompted every involved agency of the United States government to recommend that the formal U.S. position seeking a global ban on chemical weapons be abandoned. It would be hard to overstate the significance of this recommendation.

After all, the United States had been committed publicly to such a ban since Secretary of State George Shultz took it upon himself — without formal coordination or Cabinet approval — to announce that we would table a treaty for a global CW ban in a speech given in Stockholm in January, 1984. Moreover, Vice President George Bush in April 1984 personally tabled a U.S. text for a draft treaty prohibiting CW production and stockpiling that the U.S. government hastily put together following the Shultz announcement. That draft treaty called for developing the most rigorous verification regime ever designed — one that would provide for inspection of suspect sites "anywhere, anytime."

Given this highly visible and forward-leaning public position on a CW ban, it was nearly inconceivable in 1987 that the United States government could actually change its mind. Not only would there be the considerable diplomatic embarrassment entailed in abandoning a position advanced at the highest levels; America’s allies were virtually unanimous in their enthusiasm for a ban. It was also argued that the modest program for modernizing the U.S. inventory of chemical weapons would be halted if Congress saw a backing away from the concomitant effort to prohibit CW.

It was, nonetheless, a reflection of the perceived infeasibility of a ban on chemical weapons — and the real risks that would accrue to the United States were it to enter into an unverifiable one — that prompted the 1987 interagency consensus in favor of a change of U.S. CW arms control policy. But for the intervention of representatives of then-vice President Bush who objected to the proposed change, I believe the United States government would have disavowed its own goal of negotiating a "global," "verifiable" chemical weapons ban in favor of more modest limitations.

Problems with the Current Administration Position:

Instead of putting aside the illusion of such a CW ban, the United States is today moving forward inexorably — in part thanks to the new impetus provided by the recent international conference in Paris — toward its negotiation. In fact, anything that will emerge from the Geneva negotiations is unlikely to be either "global" or "verifiable:"

A less than "global" ban: As it may well prove impossible to get every nation to subscribe to the ban, the U.S. position is that the United States will enroll so long as some substantial number of other countries (e.g., sixty) do so. On the face of it, this means that America could enter into an agreement requiring it to eliminate all of its CW capability while many other nations are under no such obligation.

We are assured that, before the United States becomes a signatory, others like the Soviet Union, Iraq and Libya must agree to sign up. But this approach begs several questions: What if nations suspected of having CW are not among the signatories — will the United States still disarm? Even if non-signatories did not have a chemical weapons capability at the moment of U.S. signature, do we believe they will not obtain one subsequently? What would we do if they did?

A less than "verifiable" ban: As a practical matter, there is no such thing as a verifiable ban on chemical weapons. Short of true omniscience, in any arms control agreement involving closed, totalitarian societies, there is always some degree of verification uncertainty. What invariably occurs is a two-step process that erodes the value of any agreement reached:

First, the negotiators arrive at a lowest-common-denominator solution; they establish the degree of intrusive inspections and other monitoring arrangements that every signatory can accept. Inevitably, this outcome falls far short of what is required to verify even less daunting arms control agreements than a global CW ban.

Next comes the overselling of the treaty’s verification provisions. Executive branch officials troop to the Senate to attest to the verifiability of provisions they know to be deficient in important respects. They rationalize that, as long as the treaty can be "effectively," or "sufficiently" or "adequately" or "reasonably" verified, that is enough. In any event, it is the best they could get. In the end, they are betting that a party to the treaty will not cheat. The theory usually is that, even though such a party can be reasonably sure that its cheating would not be detected, it will, nonetheless, be deterred from doing so by the threat that other signatories will take unpalatable retaliatory steps.

Compliance and Non-compliance:

Regrettably, as the recent Paris conference illustrated so well, there is no reason whatsoevermention countries (such as Iraq) clearly guilty of violating the existing international arms control agreement on chemical weapons — the 1925 Geneva convention banning their first use. for believing that collective enforcement of compliance will occur. Indeed, the conferees found themselves unable even to

It is hard to imagine that the nations of the world will be more willing to take punitive measures when the result of a violation is not the wholesale murder of innocent civilians, brutally documented by television, but simply the existence of a building suspected of manufacturing illegal agents. If anything, the quarrels over the exact nature of the Libyan plant at Rabta augur ill for even reaching consensus positions on the facts concerning such facilities.

Biological Weapons:

This question of verification, compliance and enforcement is not, unfortunately, an idle one. There is already on the books a global ban on easily produced, cheap weapons of mass destruction — the 1972 prohibition on biological weapons (BW).

Like that being sought for CW, the Biological Weapons Convention is utterly unverifiable; its framers, however, understood it to be so and simply dispensed with any effort to draft verification provisions. Like the proposed CW ban, it is supposed to prevent any nation from obtaining and stockpiling quantities of the prohibited substances. And, as will surely be the case with any future ban on chemical weapons, it is being violated by at least several of its signatories (e.g., the Soviet Union and Iraq). Yet, the United States remains in total compliance with its commitments under the Biological Weapons Convention.

This compliance extends not only to the literal obligation not to produce and possess offensiveessentially no capability to defend against biological attack by others. Understandably, the U.S. military has — in the aftermath of a solemn international agreement that is supposed to eliminate all BW weapons — accorded the biological warfare threat a low budgetary and doctrinal priority. biological weapons; the United States today has

Unfortunately, the combination of this country’s utter defenselessness against BW and its lack of an in-kind deterrent to biological weapons use against the United States could invite such use. At a minimum, it provides a powerful incentive to an adversary to exploit the inadequacies of the existing international convention banning biological weapons and attendant U.S. (and, more generally, Western) vulnerabilities.

A similar situation to that we face in the biological weapons area would almost certainly arise in the aftermath of a ban on the production and stockpiling of chemical weapons: The United States would faithfully comply with its terms. Its retaliatory stockpile and associated production base would be quickly rendered unusable and, in due course, would be eliminated. The United States would not only submit to whatever monitoring and inspection regime were agreed; it would also ensure through domestic laws and regulations that no inadvertent circumvention occurs.

Perhaps most sinister of all, the United States would almost certainly succumb over time to the temptation to dispense with defensive CW training and preparations. In fact, as hearings in the Armed Services Committee have repeatedly shown, even in the face of a massive — and growing threat — U.S. defenses are already exceedingly modest. How much less capable they will become when there is not supposed to be any CW threat can only be surmised.

Conclusions and Recommendations:


    Forget About Banning Chemical Weapons

For these reasons, I strongly recommend to the Committee and the Subcommittee that you regard the Bush Administration’s pursuit of a global, verifiable ban on chemical weapons with great skepticism. The President must be encouraged to abandon this potentially dangerous goal.

Ironically, those in the Administration responsible for fulfilling President Bush’s oft-stated commitment to such a ban know better. Some senior officials have privately expressed to me their view that the ban is iii-advised; their hope is that, eventually, they will be able to disabuse the President of his illusions. In the meantime — at least in the absence of vigorous Congressional scrutiny — these officials appear unwilling to admit that the "emperor has no clothes." As a result, the United States lurches inexorably onward toward a dangerous, unverifiable chemical weapons ban.

I believe the United States cannot afford to engage in such hypocrisy. It is irresponsible to pay lip service to an objective whose accomplishment we know would be highly dangerous. American participation in a chemical weapons ban is — and will under all foreseeable circumstances remain — simply a formula for unilateral U.S. chemical disarmament. It is beneath us as a nation and, in any event, a delusion to believe that we can prevent this outcome by simply dragging our feet in the negotiations over some technical point of verification or another.

There are, of course, those who advocate a CW ban even though they understand that it might result in our complete disarmament without effecting a perfect ban world-wide. They tend to argue that it would be worth our while to give up our deterrent if that is the necessary price for dissuading even some nations around the world from acquiring chemical weapons. Such individuals frequently assert that whatever risks arise from other nations not being so dissuaded (i.e., those that choose to possess quantities of chemical weapons), can be fully off set by the deterrent value of our nuclear arsenal.

Scoop Jackson, for one, would have been appalled at the naivete and dangerous caprice involved in such statements. He would have given short shrift to the notion that, under present circumstances, we can responsibly enter into a CW ban in the hope of offering a model that others may or may not choose to follow. This would be particularly true given the verification uncertainties with which such a ban is fraught. Sen. Jackson also recognized the real limitations on threatening the use of nuclear weapons to deter less than wholesale conventional or nuclear aggression. I hope those who serve in the Senate today will be as wise.

Indeed, Congress can — and, in my view, must — play an instrumental role by demanding honest appraisals of the prospects for a global, verifiable ban from Administration spokesmen. Halting the United States’ headlong pursuit of a dangerous CW ban — and challenging the wishful thinking that motivates it — will require no less courage than Congress exhibited in approving the binary program some years ago. And yet, the risks to U.S. and allied security of doing otherwise are no less great than those that prompted the prudent, earlier action.


    Pursue Other Measures for Curbing CW Proliferation

This is not to say that we are unable to take — or should refrain from taking — steps to slow the proliferation of chemical weapons. I strongly support economic sanctions as a means of imposing real penalties on those who would sell or buy CW-related capabilities. I commend Senators Pell, Dole and Helms for their leadership in this regard.

Obviously, if the United States hopes to prevail upon the other advanced industrial nations to give up lucrative sales of CW-related materials to developing nations, we must observe a consistent standard ourselves. On that point, I hope that the Bush Administration and the Congress will act to reverse an ill-considered decision taken in the last days of the Reagan Administration. This decision would permit two American firms, Honeywell and Bailey Controls, to provide the Soviet Union with the technology and equipment to manufacture under joint ventures automated controls that lend themselves to more efficient CW (and nuclear) weapons production.

I would strongly urge, as well, that the Congress look carefully at the means whereby countries like Libya obtain the financing by which they can buy chemical weapons-related facilities. It seems quite likely that allied banks and companies have made such procurements possible through their credit arrangements with and/or deposits in the Libyan Arab Foreign Bank. Swift action aimed at denying the Libyans such sources of revenue could have a dramatic effect on their ability to proceed with a CW program.

Finally, I hope the Congress will recognize that the threat of chemical agents coming into the hands of state sponsors of terrorism like Libya is a sufficient menace as to warrant physical destruction of the site, if the preceding techniques prove ineffective.


    Maintain the U.S. CW Deterrent

In the end, however, Mr. Chairman, I do not believe the United States can prevent Libya — or other nations so disposed — from obtaining the capability to manufacture chemical weapons through an arms control agreement. The effect of such an accord may be to slow proliferation marginally or — more likely — to make evidence of proliferation harder to come by. What it will assuredly do, however, is to prevent the United States from retaining the ability to deter chemical attacks against it and its allies by threatening credible, in-kind retaliation.

Based upon my thirteen years of professional experience in this field, starting with my service to this Committee, I must tell you such an outcome would entail unacceptable risks for U.S. national security and should be avoided at all costs. Unless and until a better, more reliable approach to preventing the use of chemical weapons against U.S. and allied personnel can be found, I believe the United States must maintain its own, modest but effective chemical retaliatory capability.

Center for Security Policy

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